Saginaw woman shares her story of living with HIV/AIDS

The AIDS Walk Great Lakes Bay Region takes place Saturday, September 21.

HIV/AIDS is a disease that used to carry a death sentence.

With medical advancements, those living with the disease now have the chance to live life to the fullest.

Sherry Jones represents the changing face of people living with AIDS.

She found out she had the disease six years ago.

"I was engaged to get married had been for two years. One morning I woke up and found my fiance using drugs."

Jones broke off the relationship and soon after became ill. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong.

"Two years after I got sick they asked me would I be willing to take an AIDS test, I said sure. They tested me for AIDS and sure enough I had AIDS," said Jones.

She described the months that followed as terrifying and isolating.

"I thought I was going to die number one. Number two, how was I going to tell my family that I had this disease."

The longtime Saginaw resident, usually surrounded by family and friends, was cast aside by the social stigma of HIV/AIDS.

"When I would go to people's houses for dinner they would give me a paper plate to eat out of, of a paper cup. I went to use their bathroom they would go behind me and wash the whole bathroom up like I was just contagious."

HIV/AIDS is transmitted through sexual contact, sharing needles, blood transfusions or pregnancy and breast feeding.

In the early 1980's when AIDS was first diagnosed, for those infected, it meant wasting away and often times waiting for death.

Now, new medications are giving people like Sherry the ability to live longer.

"People started to figure out how to live with HIV/aids and not dying where in the beginning when we started it was mostly hospice," said Tom Brubaker, community relations coordinator at Sacred Heart Rehabilitation.

Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center has been assisting people with AIDS for 25 years.

"In the early 80's HIV/AIDS started in the gay community among gay men. That's not the situation anymore. This is an equal opportunity disease, unfortunately," said Brubaker.

20,000 Michigan residents are living with the disease.

In Saginaw County, Sacred Heart serves 170 clients.

"We have clients all ages, races, gender, it doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is they're all human beings," said Brubaker.

Six years after her diagnosis, Sherry is now an employee at Sacred Heart.

Her health is good. The disease is under control. She takes her medication and has reconnected with family; crediting the success with her disease to Sacred Heart.

"Most positive thing I could have done was volunteer for Sacred Heart because that's what kept me going," she said.

All the while putting a face to a new generation of people living a full life with AIDS.

Sacred Heart is funded by donations and the annual AIDS Walk.

NBC 25 is a proud sponsor of the walk-which is being held Saturday, September 21 at Wenonah Park in Bay City.

If you would like to participate, registration begins at 9:30a.m.

There will be entertainment, refreshments and Olympic diver, Greg Louganis will be attending.